BALTIMORE -- Jonathan Villar was arguably the Orioles’ most productive player in 2019, by various statistical measures. But it is looking more and more likely that he’ll be playing somewhere else in 2020.
That possibility grew Wednesday afternoon when, after unsuccessfully searching for a trade partner for Villar, the Orioles requested outright waivers on the infielder, according to a source. Doing so essentially makes Villar available to any team prior to Monday’s non-tender deadline, casting serious doubt on his future with the Orioles.
Typically, the waiver process comes with a two-day timeline. But due to Thanksgiving, Villar has until 1 p.m. ET Monday to go through the process, per a source. Sources also indicate that the Orioles would attempt to negotiate a pre-tender deal with Villar should he clear waivers. They would have until 8 p.m. ET Monday night to either do so or decide to non-tender him.
Villar could also elect free agency if he clears waivers, which is probably the most likely scenario. Sources indicate teams have been reluctant to engage with the Orioles in trade discussions because of the substantial raise Villar, who earned $4.8 million in 2019, is likely to earn in arbitration. A third-year eligible player, Villar would be in line to earn around $10.4 million through arbitration, according to estimates by MLBTradeRumors.com.
That price point was ultimately uncomfortable for an Orioles team still in the early stages of a total rebuild, having gone 54-108 in 2019. The O’s had been in the market for veteran middle infield depth this winter due in part to Villar’s uncertain status.
Acquired from the Brewers in the Jonathan Schoop deal in July 2018, Villar hit .274 with 24 home runs, 40 steals and a .792 OPS over his first full season in Baltimore. Playing in all 162 games, he set career highs in runs (111), hits (176), triples (five), homers (24), RBIs (73), total bases (291) and WAR (4.0), leading the team in runs, hits, steals and bWAR. He was the only player in baseball to eclipse both the 20-homer and 40-steal marks and was rated as MLB’s best baserunner per Fangraphs.
While he is a nominee for the inaugural All-MLB Team -- for which balloting can be found here -- Villar also has a track record of inconsistency. He was one of the Majors’ worst everyday players in 2017, hitting .241 with a .665 OPS, and was eventually relegated to a platoon role before his trade to Baltimore, though he also led the Majors with 62 stolen bases in 2016.
A seven-year veteran, Villar is a career .261/.328/.408 hitter with 78 home runs and 202 stolen bases with the Astros, Brewers and Orioles. Even a small raise on his 2019 salary would’ve likely made Villar the club’s third-highest paid player in 2020, behind Chris Davis and Alex Cobb. The Orioles have six other arbitration-eligible players besides Villar, and are reportedly also working toward trading another, right-hander Dylan Bundy.
The O’s have roughly $45 million committed for 2020 before the arbitration process, after slashing their Opening Day payroll from $148 million to $80 million from 2018 to 2019.
“They are good players, but there is money involved,” Orioles general manager Mike Elias said on 105.7 The Fan recently. “You’ve got to take it into consideration, and it may influence the decision whether or not to tender a contract in the first place. But also, your threshold for trading those guys if there is interest elsewhere [matters]. That’s part of running any business, and it’s part of reality. Money and budgets are a huge part of our business.”